Classy, Not Trashy: Basic Rules for Cover Letters

June 19th, 2012

No matter how technology alters the way we communicate, there are a few basic rules of written correspondence that will always remain consistent. You may send your cover letter and resume by email, but these messages convey the same poise, intelligence and confidence that they would if they had been written with a quill pen.

So with that in mind, approach your cover letter from the point of view of the hiring manager who will eventually read it. If you were in her position, what kinds of statements would draw your attention? What kind of language would impress you?

Cover Letter Guidelines: The Introduction

Don’t wander into your cover letter. There’s no need to introduce yourself grandly, make small talk, or apologize for wasting the reader’s time. Begin with a simple statement: “I saw your post on Careerbuilder.com and I would like to apply for the position of Regional Account Manager.” If there are specific names you’d like to mention to the reader, including mutual acquaintances or referrals, do that here.

A cover letter doesn’t need an attention-getting “hook” unless this is specifically requested in the job posting. Most professional, experienced managers understand what cover letters are and how they work, and they don’t need to be buttered up or wildly entertained in the first sentence.

Cover Letter Guidelines: The Body

But as you move through the next two paragraphs (a good cover letter should have about three paragraphs), feel free to reveal your personality and passion as you briefly describe your job history. If you love what you do, let this show. If you’re excited about your past and your plans for the future, feel free to let your exuberance spill over into your sentences. Just don’t joke, use irony, or make silly remarks. Controlled passion should bring life to your letter, not comedy. 

After a brief description of your background, state clearly why you believe you’re a match for this position. Describe the specific skills you can bring to the company. And make sure these skills are unique. If they apply to anyone and everyone, leave them out.

Include: “I’m fluent in XML and .net, and I can build mobile-ready, user-friendly applications from the ground up.” Take out: “I’m a highly qualified, results-driven team player.”

Cover Letter Guidelines: Conclusion

Conclude your letter with a simple request for an interview. Say that you’d welcome an opportunity to meet in person and discuss your qualifications in further detail. Then thank the reader and sign off. Don’t forget to include your contact information, even if it also appears on your resume.

General Tips

Your cover letter should be formal, clear, concise, and restrained. Ignore anyone who tells you that a cover letter should be filled with exclamation points or should sound like a high volume TV sales pitch. Stay professional, be proud of your accomplishments, be clear about your goals, and keep the hiring manager’s point of view in mind at all times.

For more help with your cover letter, resume, thank you notes, and other job search correspondence, reach out to the Des Moines, IA staffing pros at The Palmer Group.